Techniques for turkey
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor
|Roasted turkey is the traditional centerpiece of the Thanksgiving dinner table around which families gather for the much-loved annual celebration of eating.
The answer in most households is: how Grandma (or Mom or Auntie or Dad) did it. End of discussion.
However, turkey-roasting fads appear every few years, rise up and fade: barbecued turkeys, deep-fried turkeys, turkeys stuffed with other whole birds, boned turkeys and so on. And once you become attached to a particular method, that becomes the right one.
Here's a quick guide to six popular techniques, each with their advantages and drawbacks. Inside we offer recipes for each.
Whole turkey roasted at 325 degrees for about 15 minutes per pound.
Pluses: Works every time. Turkey may be stuffed or not. Makes the best gravy.
Minuses: Takes a long time.
Technique pioneered by food writer Barbara Kafka; turkey roasted, unstuffed, at 450 degrees.
Pluses: A 12-pound bird in 90 minutes. Almost-fried skin, tender meat. Stuffing, placed below roasting rack, bastes in drippings.
Minuses: Bird must be brined and butterflied; more work.
Whole, unstuffed turkey steamed in earth oven, Hawaiian-style.
Pluses: Smoky flavor some people love. Great for a group.
Minuses: Smoky flavor some people hate. Requires yard space and imu skills. Can't stuff turkey. Not worth doing for less than half a dozen turkeys.
Bird in the bag
Whole turkey roasted in Reynolds Oven Cooking Bags
Pluses: Moist meat without basting. Less mess; you just throw the bag out.
Minuses: Too much moisture; skin doesn't stay crisp or brown, and breast meat may get mushy. Bird steams rather than roasts.
Cajun technique for seasoning and deep-frying whole, unstuffed turkey in peanut oil.
Pluses: Exceptionally crispy skin and juicy meat. Cuts cooking time; 3- 3-1/2 minutes per pound.
Minuses: Danger of being burned. Mess, smoke. Added expense of oil, propane burner, large stockpot. Can't accommodate very large turkeys.
Whole, unstuffed turkey roasted in kettle-type barbecue.
Pluses: Smoky flavor some people love. Doesn't need an oven.
Minuses: Smoky flavor some people hate. Bird can't be stuffed. Takes lots of fuel (briquets or wood). Difficult to avoid burned or overdone spots. Skin usually gets ruined.
Here's the detailed how-to for all these approaches.
In every case, we assume that you are starting with a fresh or thoroughly defrosted bird that has been rinsed in cold water, drained and dried well.
You may brine the turkey (see turkey tips, this page) before roasting it traditionally or by high heat or on the barbecue. However, brining would be overkill with deep-fat frying, imu or bag methods.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place stuffed or unstuffed turkey in oven (see turkey tips for advice on racks, positioning). Roast the turkey at 425 degrees for 45 minutes and then turn the oven down to 325 degrees. It should roast for about 15 minutes per pound. It's done when the temperature reaches 165 degrees in the thigh, 152 degrees in the breast meat. (Some authorities call for slightly higher temperatures. Remember that the turkey will continue to cook for some minutes after it's removed from the oven. Also, higher temperatures lead to dry meat.) Allow meat to rest 15-30 minutes before carving.
This approach to fast, high-heat roasting was developed by the testers at Cook's Illustrated and is outlined in their December 2001 issue: Brine the turkey all day (the Wednesday before Thanksgiving), then dry it overnight in the refrigerator to assure crisp skin (see turkey tips). Butterfly the turkey (cut through back, remove backbone and flatten with the aid of a rolling pin or mallet, very sharp knife and possibly a cleaver. This takes work). You may want your butcher to do this.
Tie the legs together with cotton kitchen twine, but let the wings hang naturally. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lay the flattened, opened bird, skin side up, on a slotted roasting rack (the kind that comes with your stove). Place stuffing in large, disposable aluminum roasting pan, if desired. Place roasting rack over pan. Roast until meat reaches 165 degrees in breast, 175 in thigh. The stuffing serves a dual purpose here. It also prevents smoke from burning fat dripping into the pan.
We are not going to try to tell you how to make an imu here. Instead, we refer you to the imu chapter in the new book "Sam Choy & The Makaha Sons' A Hawaiian Lu'au" (Mutual, spiral-bound, $29.95). The bottom line here is, if you have never attempted an imu, you can readily create a disaster of exploding rock or, conversely, smothered fire. Consult an expert.
Meanwhile, turkey for the imu should be well-wrapped to avoid contamination by sand, dirt or other debris. Season the turkey as desired. On a flat work surface, arrange a piece of cheesecloth large enough to wrap the turkey. Cover that with a spiral ring of ti leaves. Place the turkey in the center and pull up the cheesecloth, entrapping the turkey in ti leaves and cheesecloth, which can be tied or secured with skewers. Now wrap the turkey in chicken wire. Place in imu on ti leaves and cover with more ti leaves. Cover the pit and cook five hours. You can check at four hours to see if a knife or metal skewer will easily penetrate the turkey.
|Succulent and flavorful, once you try deep-frying, you may never bake your Thanksgiving turkey again.
Gannett News Service photo
Dry off the turkey and be sure to remove neck, paper sacks of innards, that metal piece they stick in near the tail and a plastic pop-up dealie, if it has one.
Seasoning the turkey involves another purchase: a culinary syringe, which is used to inject the turkey with Cajun-style seasonings (or just plain old salt and pepper in a water or broth solution, if you don't like Cajun flavors). Be sure to lift the skin and poke the syringe under it, rather than poking through it. Otherwise, skin will tear. Then use a dry rub all over the bird. Do this 12 hours in advance.
Before cooking, bring turkey to room temperature and dry it thoroughly, then rig it up to the rack or basket your using to immerse it. About 2 hours before dinner, put the oil in the pot, clip a candy thermometer onto the side and watch for the temperature to reach 400 degrees. When it does so, turn off the burner, don heavy oven mitts and lower the turkey into the hot oil (this is best done with the aid of an assistant). To keep oil from foaming up violently, lower the turkey only partway and dunk it a few times, continuing to slowly immerse it while dunking until its submerged.
Turn on the burner and watch for heat to return to 350 degrees, where you want to hold it. Remain nearby and watchful. A 15-pound turkey will take about 45 minutes. To check for doneness, turn off the burner and, with your assistant, pull the turkey partway out of the pot and insert a meat thermometer into the thigh. The bird is done at 180 degrees.
Have a large platter covered with paper bags ready to receive the bird. The bags absorb the fat. Then you can remove it to a warm platter. Let it rest 15-30 minutes; carve.
Lots of folks like to do the turkey in the barbecue (kettle-style or large gas grill) to save the oven for side dishes, or to keep the heat out of the house. Do not stuff the turkey. Oil it gently and sprinkle over whatever herbs you like. Wrap the wing tips and drumstick ends in foil to avoid burning. You may baste turkey from time to time with melted butter blended with wine or broth.
Carefully clean and lightly oil the grill. The turkey will rest directly on it. You may wish to add sprigs of herbs such as sage or thyme to the fire from time to time.
Open or remove the lid from a covered barbecue. Open the bottom dampers. Pile about 50 long-burning briquets on the fire grate and light them. Allow to burn for an hour, until beginning to ash over. Using long handled tongs, bank about half the briquets on each side of fire grate, then place a metal drip pan in center. Set the grill in place 4 to 6 inches above the pan.
Set the turkey breast side up directly above drip pan. Add 5 to 6 briquets to each side of fire grate at 30- to 40-minute intervals as needed to keep fire temperature constant. Cover barbecue and adjust dampers to maintain an even heat. Cook meat until a thermometer inserted in thickest part of thigh (not touching bone) registers 185 degrees or until meat near thighbone is no longer pink, 12 minutes a pound.
Bird in the bag
There's nothing to this one. Just roast as for the conventional method outlined above, but stick the turkey (stuffed or unstuffed) in the bag first.
- Smaller birds cook more evenly and quickly: 10-14 pounds maximum. Plan for leftovers by roasting an extra bird while you're eating. Have several people roast turkeys if serving a large group.
- Buy the turkey Monday; store, breast side down, in refrigerator. Check it Wednesday morning; if it's still rock hard and icy (which it shouldn't be), immerse the wrapped turkey in a cold-water bath in the sink. Change water frequently. Defrost completely and then return to refrigerator.
- Invest in an instant-read thermometer and use it to test for doneness. Checking the color of juices and waggling legs are not good measures of doneness.
- Use a V-shaped roasting rack. This keeps the bird from sitting in its juices, ruining the lower skin.
- Position the turkey this way: breast side down, tail end first, in a deep roasting pan in the lower third of your oven.
- Turn the turkey: When meat registers 165 degrees at inner thigh, remove the bird from the oven and turn it breast side up.
- Cooking time: About 15 minutes a pound. With a 10- to 14-pound bird, start checking for doneness after 2-1/2 hours. Instant-read or meat thermometer should register 165 degrees in the thigh, 152 degrees in the breast meat.
- Always allow turkey to rest 15-30 minutes before carving.
- Don't stuff. Do brine. Stuffing tastes best and has the best texture when it's baked separately, though you can (and should) extract some pan juices and drizzle them over over the mixture. Brining the turkey immersing it in a salt-sugar mixture overnight creates an amazingly moist bird. To bring, mix 1/2 cup salt, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 8 cloves peeled and mashed garlic with enough water to cover the turkey in a deep bowl or plastic tub. Chill overnight.
- Wanda's turkey "stuffing": While I don't stuff the turkey, I do fill the cavity with a mixture that helps add flavor and retain moisture a lemon cut in quarters, a tart apple cut in half, an onion cut in quarters, a handful of coarsely chopped parsley and thyme leaves. I also blend a stick of butter with salt and pepper and rub it all over the bird (sometimes I use a little flour to help it adhere to the skin, but too much flour creates an unattractive, pasty look).
Correction: To roast a turkey the traditional way, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roast the turkey at 425 degrees for 45 minutes and then turn the oven down to 325 degrees. It should roast for about 15 minutes per pound. A previous version of this story did did not give the proper temperature after preheating the oven.